Armagh Harpers Join Harps Alive Festival Lineup This Weekend

Armagh Harpers Sylvia Crawford and Simon Chadwick will be performing as part of the Harps Alive│An Chruit Bheo│Harps Leevin festival in Belfast this weekend.

Having already opened with events in Magilligan and Mussenden Template last weekend, the festival consists of five days filled with music, history and heritage. The majority of the festival will take place across a number of sites in Belfast, including St Joseph’s Church and Linen Hall Library, before culminating with an event in Dublin on July 24.

Simon Chadwick, whilst a Ringing Master by trade, first discovered his passion for the Irish harp after demonstrating the old Irish harp in a musical instrument museum for the Young Archaeologists Club.

His enthusiasm for the instrument has only continued to blossom since.

Dedicated to studying and understanding the last of the old tradition bearers, Simon re-connects tradition to the modern world by applying metal wire strings in the traditional tuning and setup of old Irish harps.

“My work is to study and understand the last of the old tradition bearers from the 1790s through to the early 1900s, to try and reconnect to their tradition as it was before the direct lineage of master to student came to an end a bit over 100 years ago,” said Simon.

“I’ve been tracking down traditional Irish harpers playing the old Irish wire-strung harp in the inherited tradition through the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th century, finding names and personal information about these tradition-bears.”

Sylvia Crawford is a professional musician, teacher and author, specialising in the old Irish wire-strung harp. “I have played music all my life, (piano and fiddle), but only came to the harp in 2006,” she said.

Moving to the harp was not entirely easy, however. “The living tradition died out, and so the inherited knowledge of how this instrument was played was lost,” Sylvia said. “Rediscovering this has been my biggest challenge”.

The two harpers will be leading a workshop at Clifton House on Saturday, 16 July as part of the Early Harp Discovery Day. The workshop, Discover the secrets of the Early Irish Harp, aims to introduce attendees to the beauty and history of the ancient Irish harp.

An enlightening and informative 45-minute illustrated talk will be presented by Simon and will be followed by a 75-minute, hands-on workshop led by Sylvia, which will give attendees the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of the instrument and have a go at playing the harp themselves.

Both Sylvia and Simon are dedicated to connecting the modern world to this ancient instrument; this workshop is evidence of their commitment to preserving the memory of the harp.

It is hoped that by allowing attendees to engage with the instrument, the workshop will introduce the harp to a wider audience, connecting people to a traditional instrument that is intrinsic to Irish culture and history.

Sylvia and Simon’s workshop forms part of an exciting and extensive programme of events, scheduled to take place over the course of five days.

Organised by the Harps Alive partnership, the festival will bring together the finest harpers from across the island to recognise the landmark event that collected music more than two centuries ago for future harpers to learn from and perform.

The partnership between Harp Ireland and Reclaim The Enlightenment is to mark 230 years since the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast. In 1792 the Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast brought together 11 harpers, seven of which were blind and the eldest Denis Hempson was 97 at the time.

Aibhlín McCrann, Chair of Cruit Éireann Harp Ireland, said that celebrating the anniversary presented a unique musical opportunity for the harping community.

“We are delighted to bring harpers from all over Ireland together to mark 230 years since the Belfast Harpers’ Assembly in Belfast,” she said.

“Our harping heritage transcends boundaries and has really connected the partners, north and south.

“It is wonderful to hear the harpers’ music reflecting our living tradition and to see that there is so much interest in it. We are looking forward to welcoming audiences across the city of Belfast to our concerts, talks and exhibitions and in Dublin later in the month.”

John Gray, Chair of Reclaim the Enlightenment said the Harps Alive│An Chruit Bheo│Harps Leevin festival is rooted in musical history.

“In bringing more than 50 harpers to Belfast, the festival will create the largest-ever such assembly in the city,” he said.

“It will be a celebration of the heritage of the harp and the contemporary revival of harp playing, and when it concludes we hope to have created more awareness of the harp tradition with the public and leave a lasting legacy.”

For tickets to Simon and Sylvia’s workshop and for more information about the festival go to